Q: How can technology help develop better leaders?
A: Job applicants with a 4.0 GPA still struggle to succeed at work. Why is this? Chris Argyris suggests in a classic Harvard Business Review article, “Teaching Smart People How to Learn,” that our most outstanding graduates likely never had the opportunity to fail and learn from that failure.
While MBA programs have made progress, most students still lack opportunities to face complex and ambiguous challenges with no clear-cut solutions. Similarly, organizations are now encouraging leaders to take risks with the anticipation of making mistakes.
Some leaders dedicate personal space for reflecting upon the way they (and others) approach challenges, mistakes and failures. Over time, those who learn how to reflect critically upon experiences tend to demonstrate greater resilience, creativity and confidence. Some organizations equip leaders with these tools, but now a more advanced leadership competency is required. Today’s leaders must learn how to reflect in the moment. This is where advanced technologies such as virtual reality and artificial intelligence can help.
Reflecting on critical incidents and case studies gives students enough distance to analyze the situation without fear. However, this does very little to instruct employees on how to rise above a challenging, direct experience as it plays out. This higher form of reflection requires leaders to: recognize how their assumptions may be problematic as they arise; practice seeing multiple avenues forward, including how well aligned options are with values, and model decisiveness and accountability for the decisions they make.
To make this possible, we are now experimenting with advanced learning solutions that integrate virtual reality technology, so that MBA students and business leaders can practice navigating real-life business challenges. The key is providing an experience that is so disorienting, it shakes the very foundation of an individual’s assumptions and creates pause for deep introspection.
This can improve one’s ability to reflect, remain flexible, regulate emotion, gain comfort with making and learning from mistakes and act with greater confidence.
William Brendel is the president and CEO of the Center for Ethical Organizations in the Opus College of Business at the University of St. Thomas.